Dear Countryfile



Dear Countryfile

I’m pretty sure I am the type of person you think you are appealing to – interested in nature and the countryside – but I rarely watch you because you have such a blatant agenda of trying to paint a small subset of those of us who live in the countryside as hard-working, suffering, brave and splendid people whom we should all want to clasp to our bosoms and to whom we should continue to hand our taxes.  You appear to be the media arm of the Country Land and Business Association.

So I tend to watch bits of your programme on iPlayer – and usually when someone else has gone bonkers about them on social media – and that was how I came to watch your piece on last night’s Countryfile about burning heather moorland. Now there is nothing wrong with showing Ellie Harrison and a bunch of hunky firefighters on a Sunday evening but quite how you managed to show such a long piece without mentioning grouse shooting is completely beyond me.  Do you think that you were really educating or informing the public by this omission?  You do know (and this is a trick question), that the primary reason for burning heather in the British uplands is to produce ridiculously high densities of a gamebird for people to shoot for fun? It’s only a trick question because if you say ‘no’ then you look a bit dim, and if you say ‘yes’ you are left having to answer the question of why you failed to mention it?

You do know, don’t you (Guess what? Another trick question of just the same type) that moorland burning is quite a contentious issue? And you described the piece as ‘Ellie discovers the best way to manage moorland‘ and your website has a similar statement ‘Ellie Harrison is on the moors learning that the best ways (sic) to conserve vital moorland is (sic) to burn it“.  Would you say that these are entirely neutral statements?

You do know, don’t you (You’ll be getting the hang of this now, perhaps) that the Committee on Climate Change wrote last year ‘‘The damaging practice of burning peat to increase grouse yields continues, including on internationally protected sites ‘.

You do know, don’t you (don’t you?) that the Leeds University EMBER study found a whole bunch of damaging impacts of heather burning on water catchments including discolouration, increased flashiness and lowered biodiversity?

But I enjoyed Andrew Miller from Northumberland National Park apparently saying that trees were for the lowlands and weren’t wanted up in the hills of our National Parks – really? I guess it depends who is planting the trees, doesn’t it?

He also seemed to think that if men in tweed (so sorry, firefighters in high-vis jackets) stopped burning the heather then 20% of British spiders would disappear. Now, I’m only an ecologist by training so what would I know, but I’m guessing that they wouldn’t. I’m relying on ecological intuition here, but if they coped for several thousand years before men in tweed or high-vis jackets burned the heather then I am guessing that they would cope after too.  And I’ve tried to track down that 20% figure and it seems very elusive but I’ll keep trying (you weren’t including lowland heathland in that figure were you Andrew?).

All in all it wasn’t a very bad piece – just a rather peculiar one when the real world, outside Sunday evening TV, is discussing the role of heather burning in floods, greenhouse gas emissions, increased water bills, increased flood costs to us all, lowered aquatic biodiversity and the role of grouse shooting, for which most heather burning is done, in those issues and in wiping out protected wildlife from very large areas of the British uplands.

So I won’t be tuning in again until the next time that someone gets het up about your cloying take on our countryside.  I’d be interested to learn where the BBC does discuss the real issues, or is the countryside just a theme park funded by the taxpayer and enjoyed by landowners , and filmed by the BBC?


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130 Replies to “Dear Countryfile”

      1. I'm not sure that refusing to watch is the answer.
        Wherever possible we should write in on mass through the official complaints procedure. At least they then have to study the points in order to squirm out of it.

    1. Thank you. This show and the BBC et al need a reality check. Really well put. But instead of tuning out then I would hope you try a d get a spot on the show.

    2. Rob - this year BBC Countryfile has filmed habitat burning at:

      1) National Trust - White Park Bay - to return it to a 'pristine state' for rare orchids
      2) Norfolk Wildlife Trust - Hickling Broad Reserve - to provide nesting habitat
      3) Northumberland National Park - Simonside Hills - to provide habitat & grazing

      Interesting that it is only the latter which receives attention; for failing to mention grouse. Those on the ground might agree. In the words of Northumberland National Park "because the moor [at Simonside Hills] has been managed for grouse shooting, other plants, flowers and animals have thrived too". Should the BBC cover this issue in the future, I am sure there will be plenty of people willing and able to help out.

      Either way you will have seen that they were burning the heather - not the peat underneath it. If the Committee on Climate Change were watching on Sunday they might realise why so many feel their comment that peat is being burnt to increase grouse yields demonstrates a very poor understanding of rotational heather burning. Should anyone burn the peat underneath it would reduce, rather than increase, the grouse yield - and curlew etc (I note that Mark is in no hurry to correct them on this). Best, Andrew

      1. Andrew I believe that the burning at Hickling Broad was to prevent succession of reedbed to scrub, necessary because we don't have the extensive wild areas (or as yet beavers) where reedbed creation and successional processes can occur naturally in a rough balance. Drawing comparisons between this and muirburn for grouse shooting is a bit cheap and desperate. Of course with larger scale ecological restoration and reintroductions - the aforementioned beaver for one - burning could become increasingly irrelevant as a conservation tool, if it hasn't already been over used and been given exaggerated importance. The burning on Scottish hills that can be seen for miles isn't being done for any other reason than to help people with more money than sense treat a wild bird like a glorified clay pigeon. Completely bonkers!

  1. Terrific blog Mark. I haven't watched Countryfile in years. It's so ridiculously misleading at times to be verging on propaganda.

    1. Countryfile isn't verging on propaganda, it IS propaganda! It is the BBC providing a no questions asked megaphone for agribusiness and the establishment in general. Notice how many features they have on stately homes, sycophantically drooling over their so-called builders (they didn't even help mix the cement, let along build the things). Countryfile makes my blood boil and that's why I try to avoid watching it. My Mum likes it though, and as I'm often at Mum's for sunday tea, I often end up witnessing the depressing spectacle.

  2. Dear Mark

    Expect no better from the Beeb. The Tories have the running scared.

    Best wishes


  3. I think the firefighter burn strips were for 'fire-breaks' too, & practice in putting out moorland heather fires. I was on a field trip above Hebden Bridge a few weeks ago & also noticed the dead grass strands from last year which in drought conditions would burn very easily.
    Perhaps the moorland managers do 'progressive contour strip burning' a compromise to try & satisfy everybody. Would be nice to hear from some moorland managers. The moorland tops are usually described as 'above the tree line', trees would likely be very stunted in the fierce prevailing winds & shorter growing season. but I'm open to persuasion

    1. On the last point Alan, the situation varies across the country. For example, Sheffield & northern Derbyshire used to have driven grouse moors as low as the 250-300m range. The Eastern Moors ( ) and surrounding area supply an interesting example of the range of habitat types that can be achieved with differing management techniques on ex-grouse moors (over a 50+ year period), even in a relatively small area, ranging from native woodland heading towards closed canopy to open moorland (with retained Red Grouse and high numbers of waders).

    2. According to SNH, and this is taken directly from their website "Over 50 percent of the land area of Scotland is covered by semi-natural vegetation of which heather moorland and peatland are the predominant types."
      I'm not sure what percentage of that land in Scotland is considered montane habitat (above the 600 metre treeline), but a significantly large percentage of moorland is well below that limit. Scotland as a whole has the highest percentage of moorland in Europe.
      Most people are unaware that the moorlands in Scotland are largely plagioclimatic communities, where natural succession (below the 600 metre treeline) is deliberately prevented.
      I've been told that many of our specialist moorland species would disappear if we stopped managing the moorlands to prevent natural succession to woodland. Iconic species like the red grouse for example, were originally woodland birds, but have adapted to moorland habitat out of necessity. I'm not an ecologist per say, but my education is in countryside management. My question is therefore, if the grouse succeeded in adapting from woodland to moorland, why wouldn't they be able to simply adapt back to woodland if that was their natural habitat to begin with? Surely that would be an easier transition to make, so long as it was gradual?
      While there is a valid argument that grouse shooting does provide some rural communities with an income from land that really isn't much good for anything else (far too nutrient poor for agriculture), there is also the option that ecotourism would provide a much more sustainable and more lucrative income for rural communities, as it does in other parts of Europe and North America. So the really big question is, should we continue to manage the majority of our land in Scotland solely for the minority hobby of an elite few, all in the name of tradition?
      Thanks to the science of ecology, we have a better understanding now than ever before of the impacts we are having on our countryside, and now more than ever before, we are in a position to do something about it. I would say the day is long overdue that we made a more concerted effort to start putting the right habitats back where they belong in Scotland, as well as the species that once lived there. That's why I'm all for reforestation and rewilding.

      1. ''Iconic species like the red grouse for example, were originally woodland birds, but have adapted to moorland habitat out of necessity.''

        You may or may not be right. The point is this: the red grouse in Scandinavia (it’s called the willow grouse there) is perfectly happy without any stewardship from us lot. Its natural habitat is along and just above the treeline.

      2. this the same SNH who, in conjunction with RZSS want to capture all of the Scottish Wildcats and put them into the zoo? The same SNH who have licensed gamekeepers to shoot domestic/feral and hybrid cats on sight??
        I don't think that they see their job as conservation of wildlife quite so much as doing what they feel like, when they feel like it and wherever they feel like it with impunity!!

    3. "The moorland tops are usually described as 'above the tree line', trees would likely be very stunted in the fierce prevailing winds & shorter growing season"

      Analysis of pollen sequences, indicates that following the retreat of the ice sheets at the end of the last Ice Age, woodland cover extended to even the highest moors. Wind exposure at high altitude may check growth, but it doesn't prevent it - look at the Alps.

      1. Not sure about your pollen evidence -- besides the tree-lne is much lower in the the UK beacuase of our higher latitude.
        I think it's about 2000 ft here.
        Good summary diagram for the Highlands here.

        1. I was referring to the moors of Northern England where numerous palynological studies have, collectively, demonstrated quite clearly that most of the high moorland was once tree covered. At it's peak that tree cover was probably continuous deciduous woodland. Tree removal appears to have commenced in the Mesolithic period - largely attributed to humans felling trees and starting fires.

          1. I recently attended a lecture on the archaeology of the Craven Dales which (from pollen analysis) corroborates what you say, Ernest. The, what is now, moorland was covered in mostly deciduous trees - ash dominating with birch; aspen; willow; Scot's pine; pedunculate oak; lime etc. The mesolithic settlements started the clearance of woodland for fuel, livestock-rearing; hut building; crop growing and the stratified pollen layers show evidence of this. Later on more woodland was cleared to provide fuel for lead mining (smelting from pre-Roman times onward) and so on.

        2. I always heard that Kinder Scout, as an example, was probably never fully forested, despite it's relatively low altitude. Pollen records of some other high (not in comparison to Scottish moors) English moorlands suggest the same thing, but this would probably be due to,the effects of the last glaciation rather than their altitude. It doesn't alter any of the arguments above, burning moorlands is an issue that has been accepted for far too long as the 'norm'. Kinder Scout and the Kinder Trespass was an early example of attempts to regain control of OUR countryside, and maybe it's time for more of the same. Let's see if Coutryfile covers that.

    4. Alan Cook, the moorland tops would be well below the tree-line and certainly below the top level of montane scrub. As the scrub woodland developed, they would provide mutual shelter and gradually increase in stature and improve in form. The idea that our natural treeline in the UK is at around 1500 feet demonstrates how we have become used to the artificial construct of the burnt over-grazed moorland.

    5. Alan - there is virtually nowhere in Britain, bar the high tops of the Cairngorm and a few other rocky tops above 3,000 feet where trees would not grow. Yes, many of the higher elevation woodland would consist of twisted birch trees, juniper and pines but nevertheless - it would be a scrubby woodland, as occurs in SW Norway. Large areas of SW Norway's mountain landscapes, where it is just as (or more so) windy, rainy and snowy as Britain consist of open woodland habitats inhabited by grouse, golden eagles, lynx, black grouse, redwings, ring ousels, bluethroats, mountain hares, redshank, golden plover, red deer etc etc....

  4. Presumably by burning an area of heather, you burn a few spiders too (as well as all the other casualties); is this taken into account?

  5. Lovely piece Ron. I too stopped watching some time back because of the lack of depth to most of the pieces, and the skirting around the real issues involved.
    But there is one silly thing that annoys me more than anything else; the majority of their programmes relies on the good auspices of people like the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts, the Woodland Trust et al, with hours of footage shot on our reserves, and then they give the profits from their calendar not to any of us, but rather to Children in Need.
    Now I'm not suggesting that there is anything wrong with CiN, far from it, but surely they could make contributions to all of those charities that their programme relies on, couldn't they?

  6. I can't watch countryfile, it's embarrasingly awful pro-farmer propaganda. The John Craven investigates piece if it still runs, is just that, craven. Luckily I live in Bonny Scotland and we have the very excellent Landward! I suggest a much better use of your i-player time!

    All the best, keep up the good work, pk

    1. I wholeheartedly agree. Not only Landward, but Mark and Euan with Out of Doors on a Saturday morning on Radio Scotland... well informed considered rural journalism and simply a wonderful listen at that 6.30 time of the morning - I live in County Durham living with the wish of a move back over the Border!!

      1. Gordon - Moor burning does not produce bountiful quantities of food for people to pick up at their local butchers shop. It is the management practice of the idle rich.

  7. Weirdly, I'm aware of at least two 'twitchers' in North Wales who take paying clients to view black grouse in areas where the heather is burned during the winter (there's no driven grouse shooting there) whilst at the same time call for a ban on driven grouse - citing ecological damage from the burning. I know, you couldn't make it up huh?

    There's actually a great deal of heather burning here in North Wales - on the eastern slopes of the Snowdonia range, and the Clwydian range. Black grouse numbers are increasing. Seems to be completely acceptable to the most ardent of opponents providing it's not taking place on a driven grouse moor.

    1. Hmm. Any comment on the intensity of burning regime Cogswell? I could be wrong but I thought that was a key element of the debate. I'm not sure I'm hearing much on the lines of 'no burning, anywhere, ever'. The argument seems, to me at least, a little be more nuanced than that.

      1. Really? The Countryfile piece specifically says 'rotational burning', the same practice that is carried out on the slopes of many Welsh mountains and uplands. So the key element doesn't appear to be regime at all but simply the fact that too many individuals who read this blog aren't aware that heather burning goes on at many areas of the UK which a) don't have driven grouse shooting b) where there 'appears' to be a demonstrable benefit to the black grouse population, and c) given the opportunity, those who criticise the burning of heather purely from the driven grouse habitat point of view are only to willing to embrace any benefits to other species whilst making a few bob from it at the same time should the opportunity arise.

        Nothing wrong with that of course, I just find the faux hand-wringing frustration at the Countryfile piece slightly nauseating, given the reality of heather burning in the UK.

        1. Using a term such as "rotational burning" is largely meaningless in the context of accurately describing a fire regime. As a land manager I could burn every other month and call it "rotational burning" or once a year, every other year or once every 20 years. Assuming that "rotational burning" as referred to on Countryfile is the same as "rotational burning" in any other part of the country is therefore rather dubious. When Jim says intensity I'm assuming he means the frequency with which fires take place? Typically this is called the fire return interval and can be measured in days or years, depending upon the ecosystem.

          The majority of the UK is basically degraded habitat which in many cases we expend large amounts of money and resources to keep in a degraded state. We do this in a variety of ways to accomplish a range of management objectives, of which grouse shooting is only one. Some of these methods may benefit a species/s, at least in the short term, but the key questions (for me anyway) are what we want our landscape to look like and do we want it to be a "natural" landscape. I use "natural" because its somewhat hard to define in this situation. Do we care that our landscapes aren't natural? The answer is probably quite a lot considering, for example, the loss of ecosystem services such as flood prevention which grazing sheep on uplands (an industry almost entirely dependent upon subsidisation by the tax payer) has on our country.

          What really bakes my noodle is that people actively fight to maintain these trashed habitats. Not only do we expend large amounts of tax towards maintaining degraded landscapes but people consider them beautiful, they volunteer their time to uproot trees to prevent succession and the National Trust seems incapable of recognising that the natural history of many areas is vastly different from their present state.

          1. James, you answered more cogently than I could ever have managed, thanks for that!

    2. Isn't the burning in the Berwyn very much designed to create the conditions for an increased Red Grouse population? There may not be DGS now, but there may be an aspiration to develop the fairly basic walk up grouse shooting that currently occurs?

      In any case, I'm not aware that Black Grouse are in any way dependent on managing a heather monoculture. If anything quite the opposite.

      1. The evidence suggest a high dependency on managed moorland in Scotland.

        "We found that the number of males attending leks doubled where gamekeepers were employed and driven red grouse shooting practised on the heather moorland. Similarly, in northern England, some 95% of remaining black grouse were associated with grouse moor management (Warren et al 2011). Combined with growing evidence that populations of ground nesting birds, including black grouse, are more likely to be limited by predation than
        other groups (Gibbons et al., 2007; Fletcher et al., 2010) this means that any future conservation programme in southern Scotland needs t incorporate the existing predator control infrastructure and secure resources for additional predator control, as any habitat improvements may have more ‘net’ conservation gain in areas where gamekeepers are already employed in relation to areas where there are none operating. Predator management in isolation may not prevent further declines without the provision and maintenance of suitable habitats (Baines, 1996c)."

        Black Grouse in Scotland - An acceptable casualty.

        Let's be clear, I'm about as inclined to believe some of the 'information' put up here as I am if I were reading the opposite in 'Gamekeeper weekly" (if such a publication exists). The truth generally falls somewhere between the two ends of the scale.

        1. More on the increase in Welsh Black Grouse numbers through habitat management and predator control.

          1. In the interests of balance; the indigenous Black Grouse population in Derbyshire survived for more than 20 years longer in areas with no grouse shooting/heather management/predator control than those in areas with grouse shooting/heather management/predator control (see e.g. Breeding Birds of the Sheffield Area including the north-east Peak District, Wood & Hill 2013). Increased sheep numbers was the factor that finally finished them off (see the work of the late great Derek Yalden and others). A subsequent reintroduction in areas of extremely intensive management (including well documented, and prosecuted, illegal persecution of raptors) failed (one surviving male as of last year from releases over a 3 year period of, if I remember correctly, 150 birds). The two factors that seem to have been key to the failure are; a) the use of hand-reared rather than translocated wild birds, b) insufficient suitable habitat in the release area due to red grouse management techniques. Some birds survived for a few years but breeding was never confirmed, indeed many birds dispersed away from the release area, with some evidently finding better habitat in suburban gardens!.

        2. Cogswell - I wonder how Black Grouse do elsewhere in Europe without the men in tweed? Although it is not now up to date (published 1994), Tucker and Heath put the emphasis on agricultural intensification and habitat fragmentation for the widespread decline.

          1. It might be beneficial to the conversation if you can move past the DGS subject for a short while Mark. My initial reply to this blog post was to highlight the hypocrisy of some who blidly sign up to the anti-DGS and all of practices involved with it without bothering to look at the bigger picture. Heather burning is used as a management tool in places other than grouse moors and on the face of it the benefits are demonstrable, especially with Black Grouse populations. My response was prompted by reading this blog, associated 'tweets' from individulals who promote the misinformation whilst turning a few bob from clients who pay money to be taken to those very same managed moors here in Wales to view the leks (I'm sure you're aware of it). It's hypocritical and agenda-driven, either borne from ignorance or intentionally distorted.

          2. Cogswell - it's great to have that clarification of your views. I enjoyed reading them. Thank you.

            You haven't clarified why you think the RSPB actions on one nature reserve are germane to this subject though.

      2. 'In any case, I'm not aware that Black Grouse are in any way dependent on managing a heather monoculture. If anything quite the opposite.'

        Quite so.

        It's far more likely that Black Grouse derive incidental benefit more from the obliteration of potential predators than the sub-optimal habitat conditions provided by management for red grouse.

        1. I believe that often when the owners and workers of Grouse moors state how good they are for black grouse they are actually to be found on the edge of the grouse moor not its heart. Like so much else they don't really like a near heather monoculture. Of course grouse moors are a total non starter for our rarest grouse of all the capercaillie.

    3. "Weirdly, I'm aware of at least two 'twitchers' in North Wales who take paying clients to view black grouse in areas where the heather is burned during the winter (there's no driven grouse shooting there) whilst at the same time call for a ban on driven grouse - citing ecological damage from the burning. I know, you couldn't make it up huh?"

      Ahh yes, the good old anecdote.

      You should be given a column in the Telegraph..

  8. To John:
    Look into my eyes look into my eyes Don't look around the eyes look into my eyes... Your under
    .' Next week on Countryfile, Ellie is in Devon learning how to set Badger cage traps, helps vaccination teams test these gentle wild animals for bovine TB and looks into why the government is ignoring the science behind the disease refusing to support a national vaccination scheme yet wastes millions of tax payers money on a failed and cruel cull roll out ... '

    1 2 3 and - Your back in the room.

    1. Brilliant. I used to watch Country File every week. Sadly it now seems to be aimed directly at large land owners? Royalty and the hunting/ shooting brigade. Totally biased and when they do give someone a go to explain the other side of an argument they cut them short. It's absolute garbage now. Much prefer spring and Autumn watch. Presented by people who actually give a toss about our wildlife and Countryside

  9. Amen to that!!! Amazing feedback. I thought it was just me but it turns out people with real credentials and commitment to Wildlife and habitats feel the same way. More dumbing down TV arrrgh!

  10. That's brilliant Mark, I'd suggest the best thing to do would be to go and sit in a shed with a whiskey and a copy of the Daily Mail and get yourself really wound up for the next post !

  11. Not wanting to fan the flames further, but do we know where exactly this piece was filmed? Was it on or very near land used for Grouse Shooting? If it was, then the studied avoidance of using either of the "G" or the "S" words is even more suspect.

  12. Brilliant, Mark, brilliant. I haven't quite calmed down yet, but I'm getting there. I look forward to the BBC doing an "in the interests of balance" piece next week. Oh, it would involve upsetting the Establishment - so maybe not.

  13. Pauline Mellor-Greenhalgh It was blatantly obviously avoided - the reasons for burning heather to promote new growth for wildlife is the biggest load of baloney I;ve heard in a very long time. What about all the reptiles you kill with burning - all the adders and lizards fresh outside their hibernaculas not able to get out of the way fast enough. The leverets of the mountain hares (if there's any left after all the shooting and murdering of those) ... This particular Countryfile piece must have been 'commissioned' by the government and was the most deliberate bit of 'wool-pulling' to keep the general public in blissful ignorance of what 'countryside management' is in 2016 - big business and nothing must be allowed to compete with the overstocking of red grouse. It was exactly what I have come to expect from the BBC ... I remember when it was right and proper to report news faithfully and truthfully with no axe to grind and the BBC were thought to be impartial in those far off days. Then we find out about things like the Jimmy Saville debacle condoned by the BBC bosses and now they are trying to sell us the idea that moors and landowners exist solely for the wildlife - that used to live there till they exterminated it all. Shame on you Countryfile - I'll only be watching the weather forecast in future - I have a responsibility to myself to not fill my head with your drivel .....

  14. Presumably this is an 'open letter' Mark and you haven't sent it to the BBC. It would be interesting if you could get answers to each of the questions you set. I still tend to subject myself to watching because I can then feel free to criticise and discuss. What help is:
    "I haven't watched Countryfile in years. It's so ridiculously misleading at times to be verging on propaganda."

  15. How much do you add to the rural economy Mark? Bugger all I suspect, shooting adds millions to the Scottish economy along with salmon fishing and pheasant shooting. I dare say you will be happy when wolves are running wild again beleiving that they will take wild deer as apose to sheep which are much easier targets. Quite frankly I don't know why I am wasting my breath. Apart from the fact that wankers like you and your other twitching knobs are ruining this land, I would say country but then you would say, Scotland isn't part of Britain

    1. Im not a tree hugger - thank you for your comment. You made a very strong point there. Please come back and look foolish again - any time you like.

      1. So Mark, engaging his point, how much does the mythical upland safari trade contribute to the rural economy?

        1. kie - is it all about money for you? But if it is, you must be very influenced by activities that don't have the same externalities as grouse moor management: increased flood risk, increased water treatment, lowered aquatic biodiversity etc. No proper economic analysis would say that grouse shooting benefitted society as a whole when properly costed.

          1. But the moor they showed in the programme wasn't a grouse moor, wasn't being burned for grouse, and I didn't mention grouse in my question.

            Not everything is about grouse Mark, but it seems that it's the only drum you know how to bang anymore...

            If you look back, you will see that I asked "how much the mythical upland safari trade contributed to the rural economy?"

            maybe you could try and answer the question?

          2. kie - maybe, maybe not.

            The point is that the full economic 'value' of grouse shooting is certainly negative and the full economic value of nature watching is certainly positive. If you can point me to the website for mythical upland safaris then I'll certainly go - they sound much better than the present reality. Are there wolves? lynx? eagles?

        2. Ask some of the sporting estates they've actually started diversifying into wildlife safaris, wildlife photography classes etc.

          1. Grouse shooting does take place on Simonside Hills. The site is also a SSSI and an SAC.

        3. Somewhat of a redundant question here. If something is mythical then it doesn't demonstrably exist and as such any benefit to local economy cannot be quantified. Maybe it could be calculated if the land wasn't already trashed beyond recognition by those seeking to profit from the destruction of nature.
          On the other hand, maybe I misunderstood. Where you actually referring to the unicorn, griffin and basilisk sanctuaries I heard were opening in the Cairngorms?

    2. You may not be a "tree hugger" but you do appear have a couple of things in common with the average log.

      Ace stuff, Mark.

    3. Scotland has been wrecked by a bunch of numpties that treat it as an industrial production unit for putting one form of metal or another into grouse, salmon and red deer with some pheasant and red legged partridge chucked in. The sort of idiots that think native trees are a threat to wildlife, whose 'legacy' meant that I as a nature loving wee council estate boy in the central belt in the 1970s I could only dream of seeing red kites, osprey, pine martens and even buzzard when in fact there was no good reason why they couldn't have been potentially part of everyone's life here as at last is slowly happening. The H,F,S set are still doing their best to fight real progress denigrating eco tourism, restoration and reintroductions while pretending they do what they do for the sake of the land and rural communities. How many people have died after their car was in a collision with one of the excessive numbers of red deer maintained by the estates? How much extra flooding due to lack of native tree cover? Just keep yakking pal, nothing like the note of desperation to let the public know who the real 'wankers' are.

    4. '...the fact [is] that wankers like you and your other twitching knobs are ruining this land...'
      On the contrary: ‘the wetter the better’. Ref.:
      ‘’Across age groups, more males (73.8%) reported masturbation than females (48.1%). Among males, masturbation occurrence increased with age…..’’

      So, there is a high probability that you and I are both wankers. This raises the interesting proposition that we should all get out more -- especially up on those moors.

    5. I should take up hugging trees if I were you, IMATH, because I think it is unlikely any other human will want to hug you.

    6. I've rarely read a more bizarre claim than "wankers like you and other twitching knobs are running this land" if only it were so. Most of us would be quite keen to see what sort of fist of things a qualified ecologist and those who enjoy birdwatching would make of running the countryside. Perhaps we'd see more areas like North Norfolk where year-round bird centred eco-tourism is a mainstay of the local economy.

  16. I'm afraid I stopped watching country file a few years back in an attempt to reduce my blood pressure. So much potential to pack an evidence based punch for preserving and restoring our ecological heritage whilst securing rural livelihoods, but so often hijacked by an elitist agenda. Well said.

  17. Hello I'm not a tree hugger

    What a load of rubbish and venom you have spouted I suggest you educate yourself before you make a complete prat of yourself. (Too late) you already have.

    Fantastic as always Mark.

  18. If you'd bothered to watch the whole thing then you would have seen a worthwhile piece on rural domestic abuse as well as nominations for the farming awards. Obviously if you think the countryside is only there to look nice from a saddle/footpath/car window then I could understand why one may get upset about the realities of rural living and trying to make an income from land management.

    1. Is that an albatross sir? Poorly picked moment BA, today's winner in my book is still 'Im Not A Tree Hugger' though, to be honest, it could have be improved by spelling it 'Im Not A Tree Hugger!!!!!!!!!!!'.

      1. I take it back, just read a bit on your blog; 'Were it not for Bright Ambassador's dissenting voice, you might think you were going mad alone'. Oh go on, Live at Pompous?

    2. One good part, which was as much about advertising The Archers as Domestic Violence, does not cancel out the excruciatingly bad. If anything that makes the bad part even more unacceptable as it proves they can do something good if they put their minds to it.

  19. 'Im Not A Tree Hugger' (apostrophe dear boy, apostrophe), best yet.

    I was contenting myself with 'The Truth' (a recent 'contributor' to Raptor Persecution Scotland), but the quality has just improved immeasurably. On the other side of the debate I'm amazed no one is enjoying the play on words that would be 'The Red Grouse'. Feel free anyone, I haven't trademarked it.

  20. "You do know, don’t you (You’ll be getting the hang of this now, perhaps) that the Committee on Climate Change wrote last year ‘‘The damaging practice of burning peat to increase grouse yields continues, including on internationally protected sites ‘."
    You do know, don't you that controlled cool burning is not about "burning peat"? Well of course you do but hey, your band of followers will believe any rubbish you write.

  21. most of the people I speak to believe the BBC has no agenda because it is funded by license fee payers and is not influenced by advertisers. So the question is who does influence the BBC and why? Put simply, you pay your license fee and Auntie, who should be answerable to you trears you like an idiot, why does this not make you angry?

  22. Watch and then let them know what you think.
    Brilliant piece Mark. I watched last night and tweeted about it as it went out expressing similar sentiments (albeit in 140 characters!). I'm hoping that included the #Countryfile annoys them a little if nothing else as when folk click on that hashtag instead of seeing some twee pics they see dead adders, harriers etc. I've sure this is not what they want.

    I understand all those who say they don't watch but I think it might be better to watch and then kick up an almighty fuss every time this type of nonsense is broadcast.

    Listening to Mike Dilger at the recent BAWC wildlife crime conference, I was struck by a contribution from a delegate during his Q&A (I won't name her but she has/does work for the beeb) and she said the thing to do is to write to the BBC and give them [insert expletive here]. Speaking in the latest Talking Naturally podcast ( Sony Award winning producer Mary Colwell expresses a similar view on writing letters of complaint.

    Countryfile is only an hour long show so reckon its an hour well spent if we watch the rubbish they are spouting, get angry on social media whilst its going out and then write informed letters of complaint to the powers that be in the BBC afterwards.

    Thats what I will be doing anyway.

    Thanks again for great blog post

  23. Perhaps Countryfile should be moved to the Countryarchive?
    The National Park bod went to great lengths to draw attention to the difference between valley bog(don't burn) and sloping heath(to be killed regularly). However, the fire brigades training area looked remarkably flat.... a bit like blanket bog?
    Anyone who lives in that neck of the wood able to go to the burn site and measure the peat depth?.... just to reassure a doubting mind.... I'm sure the NP would have checked???

  24. What a surprise - a meltdown from himself after the programme discussed moorland management without pandering to the anti-lobby, I note that you've also utterly failed to engage their comments about the growing Merlin population across the Northumbrian moors Mark...

    1. kie - I did didn't I. Is that the best you can do - point out that I didn't address every single point made in a TV clip? What do you know about spider numbers by the way?

      1. You'll be meaning the spider numbers that have developed there due to the long pattern of hundreds of years of grazing and burning?

          1. No, but I know that Marlin like living on moorland because it's full of birds...

          2. Marlin on t'moors, Kie? I've never seen one but that'll be down to those blasted trophy fishermen i'll warrant. I demand a new petition Mark, Save Moorland Fish now!!!!!!!!!!!

          3. Jim - you should read one of Hemingway's lesser known works: 'The Old Men in the Tweed' . . .

    2. Merlin increasing in the Northumberland Moors? If that is true it will be very interesting to explore further as they appear to be going down the tubes in the North & South Pennines, Bowland and North York Moors.

    3. Really and where did you get that Merlin data? Wasn't the Penny Anderson paper for the MA was it? In which case they grossly misused and misquoted BTO atlas data (there was a complaint about this from BTO) which didn't say that at all.
      We all know Merlins like heather but they are most definitely not increasing.

  25. Were these tickets donated by the BBC? If so are they making similar donations to any body interested in the countryside, LACS, Huntsabs and BAWC for example?

  26. "Countryfile presenter Ellie Harrison thinks children should go on school trips to abatoirs"

    ... where, no doubt, they will be encouraged to "Have a Go".

    Reminded of the reason I don't watch Countryfile I was irresistibly drawn to watch it on BBC iPlayitagain Sam and blow me down sho nuff there she was Having a Go showing would-be self-immolators how to do it

  27. Fair enough. However, what sticks in my gizzard is your references to the countryside being 'subsidised' by tax payers. As a yokel, I don't see much in return for my taxes, but I'm always impressed by the technology, services, development and opportunities available to those in urban centres who think they should have a say about how the countryside is managed.

  28. Great letter, and I (like many others) don't watch it any longer for exactly the same reasons. Please let us know if you get a reply.

  29. Another ecologist here that doesn't bother with country file. It is pure propaganda. What I'm interested in is what happens when enough of the people (business owners and householders alike) in towns and cities start to realise what burning of grouse moors and canalisation of water courses to protect farm land actually does downstream, and the fact that they are bearing the brunt of floods because of these management practices. Will anything actually change given the lobbying power of big landowners and the NFU?

    1. Err the "protected farmland" produces FOOD - you know, the stuff we need to eat to live. You did study that as an "ecologist", or do you just not eat?

  30. Mark,

    if the latest 'Tory Friendly' Countryfile really winds you up, just see the new ITV Rocket Science programme if it's still available on ITV Player. They had a piece all about how great nuclear power and fusion are and how bad wind power was. I was spitting at the TV!

    1. "You haven't clarified why you think the RSPB actions on one reserve are germane to this subject"

      Mark, given the level of intransigence demonstrated on this blog and amongst its loyal fan-base, even Sisyphus would baulk at the thought of that.

  31. Great piece! Petition here to ban driving grass shoots -

    'Grouse shooting for 'sport' depends on intensive habitat management which increases flood risk and greenhouse gas emissions, relies on killing Foxes, Stoats, Mountain Hares etc in large numbers and often leads to the deliberate illegal killing of protected birds of prey including Hen Harriers'

  32. Unfortunately I disagree. For generations our hill had controlled burning on it. Wildlife was abundant including hen harriers and various other bird life. SNH came along and slowed the burning down, which led to a heathery mess. The wildlife numbers plummeted and the hen harriers completely dissapeared. Only over the last 3-4 years has there been more burning been allowed to be done and the bird life has noticeably improved and a hen harrier spotted on the hill for the first time in about 20 years. You can do all the studies and have all the scientific evidence you like. But on our farm the wildlife completely disagree with you

  33. Here on the Quantock Hills, no one is burnng for grouse or any other sport, but rather to control ticks, which are an increasing threat to the livestock and wild animals like deer that graze on the hills. But ticks also then infect us and our dogs, as numbers increase. They carry Lyme Disease which is a serious ahd infectious bacterial disease than can be an outcome and threat to people. The answer with Countryfile is not to slag them off, but to produce an informed, accurate argument put with respect to the programme makers. I have found over many years that most media producers are only too happy to produce more debate. It is what keeps them in business. Why does everyone have to polarise to make their point? Just talk to people and build mutual respect by education.

    1. Burning won't control ticks, the best way to reduce tick burdens is to treat the animals. There is science on this.

  34. In the past year I have written twice to the BBC about the accuracy of Countryfile reporting. On both occasions I complained about the BBC’s penchant for producing a cosy view of the countryside which often highlights the good life of the wealthy landowners rather than the small farmer trying to cope with problems often caused by these wealthy landowners.

    I did not even get an automated acknowledgement of receipt of my emails, let alone a reply to my letter, even though my email program tells me that my emails were delivered correctly.
    This leads me to believe that the BBC are more interested in viewing figures and furthering the interests of the wealthy large farmer and the landed gentry rather than producing factually correct programs.

  35. Brilliant blog. The only thing to add is that countryfiles coverage of the badger cull was appalling.

  36. While I don't agree with you on some things Mark, I do on this. The programme has serious problems, one being, it tries to put in too many things in to one programme, without giving the in depth reporting it should do. It then gives a very one sided view and lacks any depth or sensitivity to each report. It is trying to be 'all things to all people' and failing. The farmers and CA complain it's too greens, London centric and others complain it is too anti environment, both are correct.

    It would be better putting it back to two programmes such as Farming Weekly and Country Tracks, having fewer, better researched reports and better editing. The two could follow on after each other although for farmers etc, the new programme on BBC2 is much better. It would be nice if we could have a better quality programme too.

    I would also like to see the back of John Craven, Adam and the other male too and get someone with some gravitas on. Ellie is clever and well qualified, it seems a shame that her knowledge isn't utilised better. I'm lucky to know a retired presenter who was wonderful and miss the days where they had some quality rather than be mouthpieces of the production team.

  37. Perhaps we can point our concerns to BBC Points of View programme (not watchdog that I mentioned yesterday) as per tweet today:

    @bbcPoV can you look into @BBCCountryfile re conservation value of moor fires, strong evidence to the contrary …

  38. **** me it's a long way down...anyway. the BBC always have an agenda, spot it and post it, it is good to hear peoples opinions rather than feel stupid, good post 🙂 BBC, employing tarts as long as they have been employing!! lol

  39. Britain and Ireland have the lowest forest cover in Europe and until large upland areas left bare by grouse moors are reforested we are banging our heads against a wall. In other words take this land into public ownership.

  40. Biased Journalism,, very poor . I record counrtyfile every week sometimes watch it three time and was an avid watcher . After the blatant cover-up of the real reason on this programme sorry you lost a viewer. BTW I live in the southern Uplands and the reason its done is open knowledge.. Terrible journalism BBC should investigate what was really behind this lack of balance very bad


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